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First Look: Queensborough

SD nightlife vets do ode to 1920s NYC


It used to bug me when new restaurants or bars were built to evoke some other city. Felt like San Diego was having an identity crisis. But some of the city’s best design, food, and cocktail movements have been based on cultural dysmorphia—like tiki bars (False Idol), London-style gastropubs (Jayne’s), Texas-style BBQ lots (Grand Ole BBQ).

And holy hell does Matthew Ellis of bluemotif architecture know how to build a room. My favorite of his might still be Cowboy Star, or Kettner Exchange. And now he’s designed Queensborough, which debuts this week in the Gaslamp—an ode to 1920s New York cocktail culture.

The team behind Queensborough—Brethren Collective—comes by the NYC-love honestly, since Shane Brennan (Holsem, Searsucker) grew up there. It’s an impressive, two-level project from him and partner Mike Vizcarra (Seven Grand, Bang Bang).

Today we take a look at the first part, Uptown Queensborough, an 1,800 square-foot cocktail lounge with diamond-tufted leather booths, cantilevered marble tabletops, vintage brass light fixtures, wrought iron railings, and exposed brick walls. They made a floor element out of original subway tokens, turned an old wooden phone booth from Queens into a photo booth, and installed a subway turnstile that will usher guests into the second part of the project—the subterranean Downtown Queensborough (opening in late August).

At the bar, Vizcarra and bartender Travis Carter (Sommelier, Harvest by The Patio) are doing riffs on NYC classics with housemade infusions, syrups, and tinctures. “The New Yorker” starts with Elijah Craig (washed with bacon fat), then adds lemon, Demerara sugar, egg white, and a float of cabernet sauvignon. The “Matcha Julep” tackles green tea mania with Woodford Reserve, matcha syrup, mint and crushed ice. And “I Only Do Brooklyn on the Weekends” a mix of Henebery spiced whiskey, amaro Montenegro, Dolin dry vermouth and Luxardo Maraschino. They’ll also have 18 taps with craft beer.

For food, executive chef and partner Taylor Houseman (Lionfish, Ironside) is doing elevated pub grub. He’ll have nine apps, including seasonal bar nuts, designer popcorn, pretzels, and surf & turf sliders, and a cold soup of red bell peppers and citrus. For the entrées, expect a dry-aged meat board, a chicken board, albondigas (Mexican meatball soup) with smoked pig head and meatballs in a broth, plus grilled cheese, chicken panini, and burgers.

Coming next: the downstairs half of the project, which will be a 6,000 square-foot social club lair designed like NYC’s subways, with white tiled walls, vintage subway signs, metro booth seats, overhead subway grip handles, a custom DJ booth, private whiskey lockers, full service bar, roving cocktail cart, live jazz, and a build-your-own-barrel-aged-cocktail program. Stay tuned.

For now, check out Uptown Queensborough, which opens July 27, and will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 4pm until close. And enjoy the first photos of Uptown Queenborough.

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Restaurant reviews, food trends, top cocktails, wine, beer and generally the best eats and drinks in San Diego, by Food Editor and general good guy Troy Johnson.

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